The “Big Three” automakers are preparing to restart manufacturing next week, and Cleveland Cliffs, a major producer of iron ore pellets on the Iron Range, is hopeful demand for steel will return with it.
Cliffs idled its Northshore Mining iron mine and pellet plant in Babbitt and Silver Bay in April until at least August, laying off 470 of its 570 employees, as steel demand plummeted due to the COVID-19 pandemic and U.S. automakers Ford, General Motors and Fiat Chrysler shuttered plants to help curb the spread of the virus.
With its recent purchase of steelmaker AK Steel, Cliffs is now supplying steel to “virtually all” U.S. automakers, Cliffs President and CEO Lourenco Goncalves said. He said auto plants are reopening sooner than some expected.
“We are going to start seeing numbers normalizing early in June,” Goncalves said of the auto industry in a call announcing first-quarter results Monday morning.
Goncalves said he believes car ownership will increase as people are worried of coronavirus exposure from public transportation or from rideshare services like Uber and Lyft. He pointed to a CNBC interview of Mike Jackson, the CEO of AutoNation, the nation’s largest auto dealership chain.